Firefighters make some progress

Weather helps crews shore up defenses against Caribou blaze

Posted: Monday, June 25, 2007

Firefighters took advantage of damp air Sunday to build a line along the west and northwest flanks of the 52,000-acre Caribou Hills fire, but crews are bracing for the weather to change today.

“The fire itself has not had significant impact from the rain, however, the humidity and cooler temperatures have helped efforts immensely. What it has allowed for is more direct access to areas of the fire they couldn’t get to before,” said Elaine Hall, an information clerk staffing the incident command center set up at the Ninilchik School.

Fire crews made a pass with a bulldozer and started laying hose lines along the western flank of the fire, north of Deep Creek. Crews also have been able to work on the northwest flank of the fire, where the blaze has moved into the area burned during the 1996 Crooked Creek fire.

“They’ve got two dozers working on that area, and a hot shot crew. They’re working on it, but it’s going to be slow going,” Hall said.

Hall said rumors the Tustumena area was going to be evacuated are untrue. A public meeting is scheduled for this evening at 7 at Tustumena Elementary School in Kasilof. The borough Office of Emergency Management’s contingency plans for the Clam Gulch and Tustumena areas will be discussed at the meeting.

Should any evacuations become necessary, Hall said, the borough would activate its reverse 911 system. Residents affected would receive an automated phone call with instructions from emergency management officials.

Hall said the best way to get information on the fire is to call the incident command post set up at the Ninilchik School at (907) 714-2484. Hall said handouts and maps are available there, as well. More information on the fire, including a list of structures destroyed by the fire, can be found on the borough Office of Emergency Management’s Web site at http://www.borough.kenai.ak.us/emergency.

Hall said the Ninilchik post is manned from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and personnel there are more than happy to answer questions.

“If (people) want to talk to a human being, call here,” she said.

No suppression efforts are under way on the eastern edge of the fire, where it is burning in a Kenai National Wildlife Refuge wilderness area.

Along the southeast flank near Caribou Lake, crews have been able to complete dozer lines from the western edge of the Boxcar Hills, across Deep Creek and a wetlands area to North Fork Hills. That line is intended to provide a fuel break to protect structures in the area. Hot shot crews are providing structure protection in the Caribou Lake and Moosehorn subdivisions.

Cooler, moister air also has allowed crews to attack the area south of Deep Creek from both sides, Hall said.

“They really started laying some line in there. They got a lot more done than they thought they’d be able to get done,” Hall said.

Oil Well Road still is closed and will remain so until firefighters secure the southeast flank of the fire.

“As long as there’s any doubt in anyone’s mind, it won’t open,” Hall said, adding that if the fire were to jump lines established in the area, anyone who had entered the area would be trapped.

While the weather cooperated with firefighters Sunday, forecasters are calling for drier, warmer air to move in today, along with gusting winds.

“There’s the good news, then there’s the reality news — the weather’s expected to change,” Hall said. “It’s Alaska, that could change and it will be pouring (today). They’ve really been taking advantage of the weather and gotten a lot done, but the story’s not over yet.”

Will Morrow can be reached at will.morrow@peninsulaclarion.com.



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